Creating a culture of commitment: Empower don’t delegate

Creating a culture of commitment is hard work. How do you transfer a sense of ownership and make others feel as passionate about a task, project, cause or outcome as you do? This week I went on maternity leave and this meant having another colleague cover me while I’m out on baby duty. This question was top of my mind and I was eager to ensure the transition would be seamless and momentum would continue.

In the past the Roman’s devised a clever way of fostering a high level of accountability in their engineers. Upon construction of an arch, as the capstone (the middle stone which holds the arch together) was hoisted into place, the chief engineer assumed accountability in the most profound way, by standing under the arch. This would mean certain death if the structure was built incorrectly. In the modern age, many organizations have changed executive incentive structure to reward long term performance over short term results to ensure higher level of accountability and to safe guard the organization against short-termism.

We need to shift from applying accountability after the results are produced to before the results are produced. What typically happens is when things goes wrong, leaders ask ‘who is accountable for this?’ which is reactive and blame centric. To foster a higher level of accountability in others, powerful evidence suggests first we need to be at commitment level 3 (keeping commitments for yourself — see last post) and second we need to utilize empowerment rather than delegation strategies. But aren’t delegation and empowerment the same thing?

Delegation vs. Empowerment

Many confuse delegation with empowerment, however both are fundamentally different and foster differing levels of accountability in others. Delegation is task centric and involves giving work to others, so they are responsible for doing it, whereas Empowerment is person centric and is about letting people take their own decisions and making them accountable for outcome of what they do. An example of delegation would be if I needed to travel to London on a business trip and I tell my EA to book my flights on BA for specific dates. She will then only book the flights and wait for further instructions. If I draw on an empowering strategy, I share with my EA that I need to travel for business and need her help to organize logistics and ensure my trip is successful. She will then will then have a higher level of autonomy and freedom in how she ensures my trip is successful as well as feel more motivated and accountable.

The golden rule is: to develop accountability you must empower others. This means creating space in ‘how’ outcomes are delivered, being hands-off and avoiding task reviews. Instead put checking mechanisms in place from a distance to discreetly check the pulse of progress. The secret is also being choosy about how you build your team and who you empower. Love them and invest in them. Rather than seeing the risk of empowerment — that outcomes won’t get delivered — think of the cost of NOT empowering others.

Ask yourself — do you prefer to delegate tasks or empower others to deliver outcomes?